The seemingly sleepy western seaside township of Altona has been a large part of two iconic individual's lives. Firstly, former Prime Minister Julia Gillard who moved to Altona to embark on her political career in 1998 and worked with the local community to gain increasing popularity over the years. Also Tony Briffa, who is the former mayor of Hobsons Bay City Council and the world's first intersex mayor. So what is it that draws these driven and incredible individuals to the working-class suburb of Altona? My first guess, the beach. There are not many places within close proximity to Melbourne where you can live an affordable laid-back lifestyle in a coastal setting.
I went to Altona to explore the foreshore and the neighbouring walking trails and discovered a booming town perfect for an affordable daytrip.
Take a Werribee or Willimastown line train from Flinders Street or Southern Cross station, and alight at Newport. Change to the Laverton line train (which commences at Newport from the same platform), and alight at Altona. All up this will take approximately one hour including change and wait times between trains. You will be dropped at the top end of the main street in Altona.
The Altona foreshore changes faces and shapes seasonally. In winter it is for the brave only with the bay bringing cold winds and the sand whipping your legs. In spring and autumn, as the weather gets warmer and the winds more management, the foreshore fills up with kite-boards, windsails and parasails. The shallow water and coastal winds provide the perfect conditions for these activities. Families flock to the sandy beaches and on the weekends of late spring to build sandcastles and just generally enjoy being close to the water. The local council puts on many free events in the R J Logan Reserve parklands opposite the beach to keep everyone happy even after the sun goes down. Keep an eye on the Council website for event info.
In summer, the foreshore becomes a hive of beach-goers. The clean sand and water and shallow bay-play opportunities make this a favourite for folks of all ages. There are designated bay-play areas, some for swimming only and some for kite-boarding and other more extreme activities. Teenagers enjoy hanging out on the long pier and toddlers splash around in the shallows. In peak season the Altona Lifesaving squad patrol the beaches also, so remember to swim between the flags.
If the day is good enough to be outdoors, yet not warm enough to swim, then I recommend utilising the pathway that runs the length of the foreshore and heading to D K Grant Reserve for a picnic lunch and some bird-watching.
If you walk west along the foreshore pathway for approximately 2km, you will find that the roadway ends and a cyclist/walker-only pathway continues into D K Grant Reserve. You will be welcomed with a playground and picnic area for the kids to run around in, but it you want to really get away from it all and understand Altona a little better, I suggest you push on and take a stroll along the reasonable flat walking trail. I found the walk through D K Grant Reserve extremely tranquil and grounding. I quite enjoy being away from the city and feeling like I am exploring somewhere new and this certainly gave me this feeling. Even on a Friday afternoon I only met a handful of other people on the path and most were cyclists who were out of view before long. There is something about a wide open expanse an the coast that makes me feel re-energised.
The walk I found is best enjoyed at a comfortable pace and with eyes up and alert. I found many lovely little birds on the walk and the view from all angles is very diverse. The path follows the coast and leads towards the Truganina Reserve.
After retuning to Pier St Altona, I recommend grabbing an ice-cream, some chips to eat on the beach or a coffee and cake – whatever takes your fancy. The main-street is a lovely place to while away the hours and Logan Reserve makes a great home-base for the kids to play in the shade and the adults to relax for a while, overlooking the beach.
Other activities in Altona
I would strongly suggest visiting the Louis Joel Community Centre, which houses a rotation of local and touring artist's works. Most events and exhibitions are free entry. This centre was opened in 2005 and is deeply involved with the local community.
Also one for me to return to see is the Truganina Explosives Reserve, which is not as scary as it sounds! The site was used for the handling, storage and shipping of explosives from 1901 to 1962, hence the name. It now has a large fence around it, which you will see from the Truganina Reserve, that has allowed it to flourish over the last 100 years back to it's natural state of both flora and fauna.
If you plan your trip for a Tuesday you will be able to pop into the Altona Street Market also. Markets are not only fun, but great for budget travelers to grab some fruit an veg, as well as local cuisine for lunch at reasonable prices. The Altona Beach Market is held in Logan Reserve and along Pier St from 9am – 3pm on Tuesdays year-round.